The Orlando Magic are not in a good place. But that is good news for the team.
The 2016-2017 NBA season ended roughly three months ago for the Orlando Magic. Fans have become accustomed to it over the past five years. This past summer that feeling seemed like it could be trending positively. Magic fans have been given a glimpse of hope in the form of Jeff Weltman and John Hammond.
The NBA draft has passed. The Magic have decided to go forward with a discreet rebuild by selecting a project player in Jonathan Issac. However talented he may be, he will need time before making a real contribution to the team.
Free agency is already a week into the process and the Magic have made one small move thus far that has many fans curiously anxious about what’s next to come. The Magic front office keeps preaching about patience and future flexibility. They are in no rush to spend unnecessarily. Too bad fans only hear, “We’re about to tank for the umpteenth time with no clear direction”.
The Magic will face a few options heading into next season that they will need to make decisions on. The two biggest questions will be whether to make qualifying offers to forward Aaron Gordon and guard Elfrid Payton. After the upcoming season, the Magic will know what they have in both players, if not already, and whether or not they view those players as fixtures in the team’s future.
After settling up on Gordon and Payton, the Magic will have to shift focus to Mario Hezonja and whether to exercise their team option on his fourth year worth nearly $5.2 million. Early indications suggest the team not will not keep Hezonja on the roster.
*For the sake of this article, we assume the Magic make no other player trades or trade acquisitions that bear weight on significant cap holds
The Summer of 2019
Jeff Weltman and John Hammond both indirectly indicated that change and improvement is not going to magically occur overnight. There is no magic wand that they can wave to magically solve all of the teams issues. They must stay the course. They made it quite clear that it’s a process and a very analytical process at that. The salary cap for the 2017-18 season is set at $99.1 million. The 2018-19 season projects at $103 million. The 2019-20 season projects near $106 million dollars. That’s the number the Orlando Magic more than likely have in mind. As of today, the summer of 2019 for the Magic projects them to have only four guaranteed players under contract in Bismack Biyombo ($17 million), Evan Fournier ($17 million), DJ Augustin ($7.25 million) and their 2018 first round pick for a total between $42.25 million and 46.25 million dollars. The team likely will pick up rookie Jonathan Issac’s third year at $5.8 million bringing that total between $49 million and $52 million in guaranteed money for five players.
And that is where things start to get interesting.
Entering the summer of 2019, the team will have an assortment of assets they are guaranteed to be willing to cash in on.
In summary, the team currently will have a 2019 second round pick from the Brooklyn Nets, a 2nd rounder from either the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, or Portland Trailblazers (more favorable), a 2020 first rounder from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and a 2020 second round pick from the Brooklyn Nets or New York Knicks (less favorable). They will also own their first round pick and second round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. *For a complete breakdown of draft picks click here.
The 2019 NBA Draft
The 2019 draft projects as a very strong draft. That year projected players Marvin Bagley Jr, Zion Williamson, Kostas Antetokounmpo, Shareef O’Neal and Moses Brown could declare for early entry. Hammond and Weltman know whats at stake by missing out on franchise changing prospects. Bagley, O’Neal, and Brown look to be the on the Magic’s radar since that is the year current center Nikola Vucevic contract comes off the books. Plenty of speculation and rumors are sure to generate well before then about the free agent to be center.
It’s worth the gamble to assume the Magic front office is aware of what else will occur that year.
The 2019 Free Agents
The 2019 free agent pool is loaded with marquee players. The Magic would have roughly $62 million dollars to play with and about $82 million before the luxury tax threshold. The list of unrestricted free agents that year include names like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, John Wall, Kemba Walker, and a host of others. *For a complete free agent list that year click here.
Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves and suggest that Orlando will sign the top league players but the team could and will likely pitch the idea of a stars uniting in Orlando. They are banking on Jonathan Issac developing and being able to help recruit others to join him in Orlando.
Let’s take a hypothetical look at what potential lineups could resemble.
PG: John Wall / Russell Westbrook /Elfrid Payton / Luke Doncic (2018)
SG: Klay Thompson / Evan Founier / Hamidou Diallo (2018)
SF: Jonathan Issac / Kevin Durant/ Paul George / Zion Williamson (2019)
PF: Aaron Gordon / Tobias Harris / Kristaps Porzingis (RFA)
C: Marvin Bagley Jr or Moses Brown (2019) / DeAndre Jordan / Nikola Vucevic / Karl-Anthony Town (RFA)
The reality is that Orlando would be hopeful to sign anyone currently not listed as an Orlando Magic player. They could pull out the same game plan as they did in the year 2000.
In 2000, the Magic almost landed a big three of Tracy McGrady, Grant Hill, and Tim Duncan. They were successful in landing two of the three, as Duncan opted to remain in San Antonio just hours after house hunting in Orlando.
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The Realistic Plan
The pains of being strategic aren’t beautiful but it’s an approach that the Orlando Magic need to take. And the fans need to accept. The team has been out of the playoffs for the past five seasons and projected to miss out next season. Hammond and Weltman are unlikely to reveal any type of long-term plan outside of Magic headquarters, but it’s clear they intend to rebuild the team within the two to four year range. After inheriting bad contracts and a congested roster, they will play the waiting game and “evaluate” the roster as is for the next season or two.
The Orlando Magic are making the best move possible by not making a big move to sign or trade for someone this year. Or next year. Quietly, the Magic are setting themselves up for quite the year in 2019 by staying the course. They will have a clearer understanding of Issac as a player and will have added another quality rookie in 2018. In 2019, they can afford to be very aggressive by adding players to put themselves back into the playoff conversation.
That’s a clear direction whether the team says it or not.